Writer in Residence

Perfection

By Barry Dempster

I’ve been running a writing workshop all winter and, once again, marveling at the courage that it takes to tackle the tricks and complexities of the English language. The writers are exposing themselves to the possibility of failure week after week, hefting the weight of expectation and the discipline to persevere. “Perfect” is a Calvinist hairball of a word and has created nothing but self-doubt and misery. Perfection is overrated.

In class, half the writers preface their readings of a particular week’s assignment with apologies for not measuring up. The negative voice can go on longer than the assignment itself. In order to save time, I now ask everyone to picture that hypercritical part of themselves as an imp sitting on their shoulders, close enough to their ears that all it needs is to whisper in order to be heard loud and clear. The minute a writer starts echoing the imp’s negative message, I simply reach out and sweep the nasty creature away. I refuse to listen. What’s on the page is what counts, not our fear of it. That sickly feeling it has that we might not measure up is usually wrong. We are rarely as bad as we think.

If you stood outside the classroom door during a workshopping session, you’d hear the sounds of careful critiques being punctuated by the swish of imps falling to the floor. Blah, blah, swish, blah, blah, swish.

And then the sounds of praise as well, the bravos and the applause. Rather than use the word “Perfect,” I prefer less freighted words like “Amazing” and “Gorgeous,” words that flourish for a moment and then evaporate.

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book.


Barry Dempster, twice nominated for the Governor General’s Literary Award, is the author of fourteen poetry collections, two novels, The Ascension of Jesse Rapture and The Outside World, two volumes of short stories and a children’s book. His collection The Burning Alphabet won the Canadian Authors’ Association Chalmers Award for Poetry in 2005. In 2010, he was a finalist for the Ontario Premiers Award for Excellence in the Arts. He is also Acquisitions Editor for Brick Books.

For more information about Invisible Dogs please visit the Bricks Books website.

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